KANSAS CITY, KS – JUNE 25: A referee sprays a mark on the field prior to a penalty kick during a match between Sporting Kansas City and Vancouver Whitecaps FC on June 25, 2011 at LiveStrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

Five ways to improve officiating in MLS

After witnessing what happened on ESPN and FS1 yesterday, there is a problem when it comes to officiating in MLS.

Now let’s be clear that this is a very complicated issue to deal with and is an issue in other leagues, both in soccer and in other sports, and not just in MLS. There were multiple instances in the EPL and the FA Cup this weekend about handballs that should have been called but weren’t. Determining what is or what isn’t a handball is another issue in itself that will be talked about at another time.

Specifically, there are two issues that I have with officiating that need to be addressed at some point. Soccer referees have a tough job and it’s unrealistic to expect a human can be 100% perfect. Having said that, missing incredibly easy calls and inconsistent officiating over the same game are things that need to be kept to a minimum.

There are times where a referee misses a call and if your team was affected, it hurts but it happens. But there are missing calls and then there are missing tremendously easy calls. The Dom Dwyer and Cyle Larin fouls were pretty obvious calls. Larin could be debatable on whether that was a penalty but at the minimum were both fouls and red cards for denying a goalscoring opportunity. There’s bad and there’s really bad and there have been way too many really bad calls recently.

The consistency issue, or lack thereof, is something that many players as well as fans have a problem with. We can accept the occasional bad call and mistake but being inconsistent causes huge problems. A player can at least adjust to a referee if they are loose or strict. The issue gets to be when the referee goes from loose to strict and vice versa and then the player doesn’t know what they can or cannot do. It’s like dealing with someone who has mood swings. You’re walking on eggshells throughout. And then before you know it, someone gets a red card or gets away with something that should be a red card because nobody knows what the ref will decide from one minute to the other.

But while everyone seems to want to vent anger at MLS and the PRO referees, not as many are coming up with ways to fix it or just improve the state of officiating. We have done our part in coming up with five possible ways to fix officiating. Some of these are realistic, some are more joking (maybe half joking) but the key is that we want to be a part of the solution and not just be outraged at what we’re seeing every week.

Video replay

Video replay is likely the easiest to implement. Credit to MLS, they are committed to making things as good as possible when it comes to getting calls correct. Much of the reason why things haven’t progressed as many have hoped is because MLS has to answer to CONCACAF and more FIFA. FIFA has passed an experimental phase to test video replay on red cards, penalties, mistaken identity and goal line technology (which is already incorporated). MLS volunteered to take part in the experiment and said they will test a version of video replay in USL this season.

Flip a coin

At least flipping a coin would provide a built in excuse or why there was a bad call. And, if there is a silver lining, at least the ref would be right 50% of the time and let’s be real here, are those odds of getting a call right any worse than the current situation?

Pay refs more

This would appear to be an oxymoron, to pay refs more money for bad performances but it makes sense. MLS referees, as well as referees in every sport, do not get paid enough for a referee to make that as their only job. A job of a referee is more of a fun hobby as well as a way to make added income on top of their daily job whatever that may be. It would be a big investment, but if referees were paid enough to have this be their full time job, they could do more games and train more to get better as well as only being able to focus on one job. I have worked and still do work multiple jobs and it can be tough to effectively split time and resources to do it all. And I don’t have the added pressure of hundreds of thousands of people reading my work. I wish I had hundreds of thousands of people reading my work at the same time but that isn’t the case.

Look at how referees are being trained

Maybe this isn’t necessarily the referees fault. Look at it this way. When a school consistently posts low test scores, maybe how the students are being taught is the issue and that needs to be adjusted. If that’s the case, it won’t matter who is on the field so while this may not need changing, it’s probably a good idea to at least determine if this is indeed the case.

Get rid of all refs and let players call their own fouls

It seems to work when we play pickup games, why not in MLS. At the very least, it would create a “put your money where your mouth is” situation where players would then have a perspective of a referee and realize it’s not as easy as it looks. It may not change their view of referees but at least they would have some perspective the next time they may be upset with a bad call.

No matter how one feels about the state of officiating in MLS, everyone just wants to see an improvement. MLS isn’t alone in that there are unforgivably bad calls in every soccer league and in every sport but there seems to be more and more bad calls among MLS referees than most. There are a lot of great things going on this season in MLS but calls like what we saw Sunday distract from that. It’s going to be a long process and it’s unclear as to how to fix things, but it’s clear that something needs to change because the status quo is just not working.

About Phillip Bupp

Producer/editor of the Awful Announcing Podcast and Short and to the Point. News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. Highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @phillipbupp